Posts Tagged ‘Dennis Osadebe’

The Sunset is Hope

The Sunset is Hope

In Africa, everyone is a fighter.

The African spirit is a spirit that is constantly seeking, always searching, always roaming, constantly restless. No, maybe I should be talking about the African soul instead.

Many poets have chronicled the passion and soul of a continent that has fought herself out of wars, colonialism, apartheid and is now warring against neo-colonialism. Now, the truth is that Africans have always had reason to be on edge. It is only natural that our poets script our collective journey along the walls of a common history.
There is no disputing the fact that Africa is seen by Africans as a Nation: The Motherland. This is important to anyone who reads African poetry, because then, you can see through Zambian eyes to understand Nigerian poetry. You can see through Senegalese poetry by wearing Ghanaian glasses. And you can appreciate South African poetry even if you are sitting on the banks of the Nile in Egypt. When a poet anywhere on the continent says “me”, he speaks more as a citizen of the Greater country than as a staunch nationalist. A classic example of such context is the poem “Young Africa’s Plea” written by Osadebe (review coming soon).

Claiming Tomorrow

Claiming Tomorrow

Many of the established African poets who are studied and read today draw on themes that were common to Africans everywhere, even bordering on the Diaspora. In fact, greatness in achievement has in times past been likened to whose poetry has helped shape Pan-Africanist ideals most. This helped to push Pan-Africanism and improved the cooperation between states in forging out common destinies. Imagine this: Leopold Sedar Senghor, one of the leading poets coming out of Africa, was a one-time Senegalese president, Kofi Awoonor, one of Ghana’s leading poets was Ambassador to Brazil and his compatriot Atukwei Okai has served in like capacity to a poet Laureate, Dennis Osadebe was a founding Father of the National Council on Nigeria and the Cameroons while Wole Soyinka has long served as the most outspoken voice on political decadence in Nigeria. This is a small mirror to the large image of poets all over the continent fighting for the popular rights of the common man made unpopular. How could I even leave out Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o, not poet but playwright, who was forced into exile for 22 years for standing against Kenyan rule, having taken the lead in standing against colonial rule? And all this with a pen!

But Africans don’t only write about their struggles, after all, great love stories await the warriors who come from the battle. The most beautiful words have been woven for unnamed damsels who have represented the African woman. Sometimes, even the continent itself has been eulogised as a woman. The affection that Africans attach to their home is intense.

So in this blog, many diverse lyrics will be explored: the romantic, the emancipationary, the dirge, the attributive, the epic, the melancholic, the landmark, the historic. None of them will be far from the soul of African poetry. None of them will stray from the identity of the man who blends in with the heart of his continent. The man whose very footsteps are the heartbeat of the place he calls home. This home called Africa.

I am proud to belong here.




Dennis Osadebe was born in Asaba, Delta State, Nigeria in 1911 to parents of mixed cultural backgrounds. For a long time, his education and work were in Nigeria before he left to study law in England in the 1940s. He has been in politics, journalism and practiced as a jurist. For a time, he was Premier of the Mid-West Region of the Federation of Nigeria upon its creation. He was also one of the founders of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons in 1944.
Like many poets, Osadebe wrote first for journals and newspapers such as the West African Pilot. His first anthology, Africa Sings was published while he was studying in England. As an African born in the colonial era, his poetry resonates with others rising across the continent at that time, talking about Africanness and the desire to carve an identity for a continent fighting to put herself on a more-deserved pedestal.

Who buys my thoughts
Buys not a cup of honey
That sweetens every taste;
He buys the throb,
5 Of Young Africa’s soul,
The soul of teeming millions,
Hungry, naked, sick,
Yearning, pleading, waiting.

Who buys my thoughts
10 Buys not false pretence
Of oracles and tin gods;
He buys the thoughts
Projected by the mass
Of restless youths who are born
15 Into deep and clashing cultures,
Sorting, questioning, watching.

Who buys my thoughts
Buys the spirit of the age,
The unquenching fire that smoulders
20 And smoulders
In every living heart
That’s true and noble or suffering;
It burns all o’er the earth,
Destroying, chastening, cleansing.

This poem is Osadebe’s statement of Africa’s soul at a time that he can confidently call Africa young: a continent waking to the realities of her need for independence. He compares his thoughts to the throb/ Of Young Africa’s soul (lines 4-5) and in his opening lines, he tells us that they are not a cup of honey/That sweetens every taste (lines 2-3). Osadebe feels the revolutionary wind that is blowing across the continent and which he embodies in the soul of this poem, representing The soul of teeming millions (line 6) with his thoughts. He writes on despair but looks to hope in the contrast of the lines that end the first stanza: Hungry, naked, sick (line 7) are desperate but in the next line, Yearning, pleading, waiting are more hopeful.
Osadebe says that his thoughts are not the thoughts of any one man who bestrides Africa, the country, like a Colossus, a tin god to be worshipped. But he breathes the fire of restless youths who, are tired of their present and are sorting, questioning, watching (line 16). In pre-colonial times, this was a common theme that helped to shape the thinking of a continent on the brink of revolution. What Osadebe does best is to use a prophetic, rhythmic repetition to show the desperation of Africa for change. His continued repetition of the line, Who buys my thoughts, is more of a warning than a statement of harmony.

The final stanza ignites the volcano that is hid in his heart and is now brewing inside the African revolutionary heart. He claims his thoughts as unquenching fire that burns in every heart that is alive. Every heart that is suffering and is honest! Osadebe now calls his thoughts a fire that burns all over the earth. Here reflects the mission of his life which was lived on two continents and goes beyond the call for freedom in his country Africa. Here sounds a call for freedom for people suffering everywhere. A call that Osadebe, and of course Africa, is not ready to beg for, but to claim in an inferno.

The beauty of every last line of the stanzas is the fact that it ends with a word that evokes a brighter future for which Africa is waiting (line 8), watching (line 16) and with her fire, is cleansing, (line 24).